I am pleased to begin my tenure as a Fine Art blogger for OCA. I have spoken to my students in advance and we have agreed three areas of possible interest to the OCA readership. The first is reviews of exhibitions or places of interest and I will begin with a review of the new Gerhard Richter show here. The second is the work of your fellow students. I have many interesting and exciting students and will ask their permission to showcase some of their work in future blogs. The third is my own studio practice and life as an artist. I have quite an unusual life in some ways, living on a Hebridean Island, and my work is undergoing what will hopefully develop into a significant transitional stage so I will include some narrative detail of my artistic journey over the upcoming year. I may well do requests, so if you have any subjects you would like me to cover do please make contact via the blog.
Gerhard Richter is an important artist and an exhibition of his work called ‘Panorama’ is on at the moment, until 8th January 2012, at Tate Modern. I went along on the first day it opened for the rare opportunity to see the work of a ‘living legend’. Panorama is a show which spans Richter’s entire working life but doesn’t have the ‘closed door’ feel of a retrospective. This has something to do with the way that Richter himself thinks and works. He revisits themes and his work sets itself up in a kind of dialogue with itself. Walking around the show is like viewing a conversation about art taking place using purely visual language. The show is an opportunity to see many iconic works that you will know well from reproductions but feel completely different in the flesh.
For me as a painter, visiting a Richter exhibition is like breathing in clear mountain air. The elegant economy of his thinking allows him to tackle hugely ambitious subjects with a kind of humble but ruthless logic which simply burrows through the ideas. The nature of painting as subject is always present, as it is perhaps for all serious painters. Sometimes when I am drawing in galleries passers by stand behind me and say ‘she makes it look so easy’ and here now a similar sentiment breaks into a smile as I think about all the disordered and overcomplicated attempts I have made to explore similar themes.
For artists looking to paint about painting, using imagery is a major strand of the investigation. Lots of artists have played around with the meaning or influence of imagery – using found images, no images, randomly generated images, other peoples painting etc. Richter being who he is has used all these ideas.
The sheer volume of work and effort taken to pursue each strand of the enquiry to it’s furthest extreme is breathtaking and one of the main responses I have to this exhibition to be honest is an overwhelming urge to pull my finger out and work harder. Effort and it’s partner skill are another major strand and Richter’s swooping intellectual and physical gymnastics between goosebump technical skill and pure painterly physicality are done with such grace that some have suggested he is being cynical or pretending. He denies this and I am inclined to believe him.
Richter has doggedly pursued the possibilities for the relevance of painting all his working life and done so it sems to me without bombast or ego. My friend John is an art handler at the Tate and worked with Richter for the week preceding the opening to hang the work. In the very few times I’ve met famous people I have been wrong footed by the disparity of a stranger I know so much about. In Richter’s case I would have liked to have met him. For the support and inspiration he has given through the piercing arc light of his unstinting work I would have liked to be able to say thank you.
The Tate Blog has some interesting threads about the exhibition and the Tate Channel has an interview with Richter. There are two or three events planned around the exhibition. I would hope that at least one will be recorded and shown on the Tate Channel at some point. All OCA students ought to be signed up for the Tate e-newsletter at www.tate.org.uk. For those who can’t go the exhibition there are several excellent books about Richter which you might be able to request from your library – ’40 Years of Painting’ is particularly good. In print the photo realistic paintings look just like photos though and so you miss the freshness and economy of the painting style.